Outdoors and Underground
Explore West Virginia’s wild and wonderful underground.
Photographed by Nikki Bowman
As much as we love taking summer jaunts on the many trails in West Virginia’s parks, and as beloved as our local watering holes are, sometimes you need a little bit more to beat the muggy heat during these sticky July days. Joining the National Wildlife Federation’s movement to get 10 million kids outside running, playing, swimming, and generally having fun, we’ve challenged you< to a summer of outdoor adventure in our state. But today we want you to go inside—inside the earth that is.
West Virginia is home to some of the most extensive systems in North America. The West Virginia Speleological Survey lists thousands of cave passages in the state, and while we certainly don’t recommend any inexperienced person take a trek into the depths of the earth without a guide—or a flashlight—we do recommend trekking. There are plenty of commercial caves in the state that give speleo-curious visitors a safe, lighted path through some of West Virginia’s magnificent underground passages:
Explore Lost World Caverns at your own pace with self-guided tours passed famous formations like The Snowy Chandelier, a 30-ton stalactite in the shape of a giant chandelier, and the Bridal Veil, a grand column of white calcite. For the more adventurous, the Wild Cave tour offers a four-hour crawl through the cave’s mud and formations. The Wild Cave tour requires advanced reservation.Lost World Caverns, HC 34 Box 308, Lewisburg, WV 24901, 304.645.6677
Organ Cave is one of the longest caves in the U.S. and boasts one of the most interesting histories. Transport yourself back in time with Civil War Tour, demonstrating how the cave was used during battles. Spoiler alert—Confederate soldiers hid themselves from union troops during winters in this cave. More touring options are available, including the Formation Tour, a behind-the-scenes look at the cave’s formations, and the Walking Museum Tour taking a combined approach with history and formation information. Wild Tours led by experienced guides are also available with optional overnight stays. Organ Cave is most famous for the 40-foot tall calcite drapery that resembles a pipe organ—before regulations prohibited it, visitors used to strike the pipes with a rubber mallet to produce different tones.Organ Cave, Hoke’s Mill, Ronceverte, WV 24970, 304.645.7600
Seneca Caverns is home to the oldest recorded cave in the state, which was closed for decades, but recently opened as an introduction to wild caving. Tamer cavers can also have fun—Seneca Caverns has been offering walking tours since 1930, giving visitors a glimpse of the largest flowstone formation in the state as well as The Grand Ballroom, where the ceiling stretches 70 feet from the ground.Seneca Caverns, 3328 Germany Valley Road, Riverton, WV 26814, 304.567.2691
Named for its first-known use as a smokehouse for the Seneca Indians, Smoke Hole Caverns is home to some of the most unique formations and boasts one of the longest ribbon stalactite in the world. With a dazzling display of spindly soda straw stalactites, an underground lake, and one of the highest ceilings on the East Coast, Smoke Hole Caverns is sure to please.Smoke Hole Caverns, 8290 North Fork Highway, Cabins, WV 26855, 304.257.4442